04 Jan 2021 - Source: Myanmar Times - A five-year project aims to help improve Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) practices in hospitals in five townships in Ayeyarwady Region, said an official of the non-governmental group WaterAid Myanmar. The help is being provided under the project Water for Women – Supporting Safer Birth in Myanmar.

U Min Ko Ko, manager of Water for Women, said the project started in July 2018 and will finish in 2022 in Kyankhin, Myanaung, Laymyetna, Zalun and Pantanaw townships. The work is funded by Australian Aid with the support of the Ministry of Health and Sports, WaterAid, and Jhpiego, an international non-profit health organisation affiliated with Johns Hopkins University. He said the WASH facilities will meet the standards set by WaterAid. "We will provide user-friendly toilets, handwashing basins and menstrual hygiene facilities that meet WaterAid's guidelines for developing countries," he said.
"Last year we trained health workers and hospital cleaners. Now we will provide infrastructure (for WASH) in cooperation with township support groups and engineers," U Min Ko Ko said.
"Hospital cleaners who attended the training shared their knowledge when they returned to their townships. They said the training had helped improve their skills," he said.

Helps to retain health workers
He said that better WASH practices in hospitals would help slow the spread of COVID-19, and that good WASH practices are important to improving the skills and motivation of health workers. Moreover, these practices will spread to the community via people who visit the hospitals.

The United Nations Children's Fund stated on its website that 50 percent of schools and over half of health facilities in Myanmar lack WASH services and the systems to effectively track them. It also stated that infections related to poor hygiene at health facilities are a leading cause of disease and mortality among mothers and young children. Fears of infection at a health facility are likely to contribute to women choosing to give birth at home, where conditions may also be limited, or worse.

WaterAid Myanmar is a charity dedicated to improving access to safe water, hygiene and sanitation in the world's poorest communities. It works with local partners to provide skills and support to help communities meet their needs, according to the group's Facebook page.

Water for Women partners with WaterAid so that women have safer births in Ayeyarwady as a result of improved WASH and infection prevention and control measures. Myanmar's national neonatal mortality rate of 25 per 1000 live births is one of the highest in Southeast Asia. The rates are even higher for births in rural areas, among mothers with little or no education, and among babies born to low-income families. The maternal mortality ratio is 200 per 100,000 live births.

Newborn deaths preventable
Most of these deaths are from preventable causes, such as postpartum infections or complications that can be addressed with simple interventions. Some of the barriers faced when looking to improve these statistics are:
• Only about one third of births (37 percent) occur in a health facility where life-saving emergency obstetric and newborn care services are available.
• Among the poorest families, only 16.8pc of live births took place in a hospital compared to 82.5pc among the wealthiest families.
• Access to quality healthcare is more difficult for the 70pc of Myanmar's population that lives in rural areas.

Essential to health
Adequate WASH facilities and infection prevention and control measures are essential components of providing basic health services, including for maternal, newborn and child health. The provision of WASH in healthcare facilities serves to:
• prevent infections, control the spread of disease and combat antimicrobial resistance;
• protect the health and wellbeing of patients and their families, health workers and surrounding communities;
• improve prevention, preparedness and response to outbreaks and emergencies;
• and uphold the dignity of vulnerable populations, including pregnant women, newborns and children and people with disabilities.

Water for Women aims to support women and the most marginalised people in a community by providing safe and sustainable WASH access for all. Water for Women is partnering with WaterAid to strengthen health services to improve the quality of maternal and newborn healthcare in Myanmar.

Ayeyarwady Region has a neonatal mortality rate of 36 per 1000 live births (much higher than the national average), with 34pc of births occurring in a health facility. The project aims to ensure that women in Myanmar have safer births and quality maternal and newborn care as a result of improved WASH and infection prevention and control measures.

Clean and safe healthcare facilities can increase demand for, and reinforce the role of, healthcare services and staff in setting hygiene norms; increase the motivation, satisfaction and retention of health workers; and cut costs by preventing infections.